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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Monday, August 4, 2014

Lawyers Without Law Schools

Over the past half-decade, the entire concept of going to law school has received strict scrutiny, even here in this law blog.  The idea of acquiring a 6-figure debt for a professional credential strikes most graduate students and their families as ludicrous.

Four states have a little-known alternative for those college graduates committed to becoming lawyers.  In California [of course], Vermont, Washington, and Virginia, a college graduate can qualify to sit for the bar exam without attending law school.

The process is called an apprenticeship - by studying in the office of a real lawyer or judge, by "reading the law", the apprentice gradually learns the law and, at least in 4 states, is deemed qualified to sit for the bar exam.  There are guidelines in each of the states, and the apprentice must take exams along the way.

This is the "road less traveled" to be sure.  According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, of the more than 80,000 bar exam takers last year, only 60 were law office "readers".  The legal profession is constantly being called to task for using law schools as sentinels guarding entry into our once-noble profession.

Until law schools began to proliferate in the late 19th Century, "reading the law" was the manner in which students became lawyers.  Think, Abraham Lincoln and Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall; neither of these luminaries went to law school.

Out in California, the United Farm Workers union has developed a long-standing tradition of training lawyers through apprenticeships.  Those mentored by the union's staff attorneys have, as attorneys, assisted migrant farm workers and similar causes.

The obvious advantage of the apprenticeship model is that, with no crushing student loan debt to repay, the newly-minted lawyer can bring more focus to bear on doing good, than on making money to repay the loans.

With many law schools giving lip-service over the past quarter century to the concept of training students by providing them with the practical skills they really need, some have moved aggressively toward converting the third and final year of law school into an "externship", i.e. spending time in a law office.

While the practical aspects of a lawyer's training is a good beginning point for improvement, other significant obstacles remain.  For example, of the small group of apprentices that sat for the bar last year, only 28% passed compared to 73% of exam-takers that graduated from ABA-accredited law schools.

The bar exam, also a subject of previous Law Blogger posts, has its own set of critics.  All of this concerns the "secret sauce" that makes up the process of becoming a lawyer.

So long as lawyers remain viable on our nation's professional landscape, the lawyer-making process should be critically examined.

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